Hey, Here’s a Packaging Project Plan to Avoid Launch Delays Like a Pro

If you haven’t already considered how packaging will delay your start-up’s launch date, then it’s already too late.

The good news, it’s not an irreversible problem. Let’s breakdown the packaging design process and timeline to learn how to avoid delays.

In packaging, everything comes down to timing. Begin your time-in-action calendar within the first few days of developing your product to hit your launch date like a pro. Don’t have a time-in-action calendar for packaging?

Don’t sweat it, I got you!
Follow the project plan below, and back out your own project plan today.

Here are the three most asked questions I hear when consulting in-house design teams.

Why is packaging so important to my company?
With so many products to choose from, packaging is critical in differentiating your brand. Packaging literally places your brand into the hands of consumers. Packaging that doesn’t deliver an OOBE (Out of Box Experience) equal to, or greater than your check-out experience can expect a higher return rate. Buyer’s remorse begins at unboxing.

Can’t my OEM design and produce my packaging?
Many start-ups allow their OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to source and sometimes design packaging due to the time crunch prior to launch. OEMs are good at their business which is why you chose them. Chances are, packaging isn’t your OEM’s core business. Just as you wouldn’t have a packaging company make your new gizmo, don’t allow your gizmo-maker to design your packaging. 

Hire a packaging professional to engineer, design, and oversee manufacturing. If you’re unsure of where to start, hire a packaging consultant that can identify scope, make a project plan, and guide you to a successful launch.

Can we have packaging in less than 4 weeks?
Short answer is yes, and no. 

300 shipping boxes printed in 1 color? yes. 

3,000,000 hand wrapped rigid boxes with molded fiber inserts printed 6 colors and foil stamped, delivered to 6 global locations? NO.

Packaging design is made up of various phases including concept development, structural engineering, material selection, visual design, prototyping, testing, and mass production. These combined phases can rack up weeks or months depending on the complexity of packaging and number of SKUs to be packaged. 

Packaging timelines hinge on the unique needs of your product, the time of year, and the complexity of packaging. Every product s different, has different testing specs, and fragility levels. Food packaging for cereal would be a much faster timeline than packaging for high-dollar electronics. Time of year impacts timelines as well due to peak seasons, global holidays, and weather. 

How Long Will Packaging Take?
Let’s add up each phase and total it out at the end of the complete process. Using a 4 week average for structural and visual design. At this stage you can have rendered design that can be used for test markets, promos, and web assets.

Sampling & Testing
Once design is complete, you’ll need production quality samples which take an average of +2 weeks. Your fulfillment team will need to test the pack for an efficient kitting process + 1 week. Early-stage kitting runs will identify areas in which the packaging design can be adjusted for additional efficiency. This means a round of changes +1 week. At this stage you can have physical samples for marketing, seeding, and early consumer testing.

Next, a packaging engineering team will test your pack and optimize for shipping conditions. Testing engineers will drop, vibe, and put your packaging through life cycle simulations that confirm your pack is able to protect the product IRL. You can expect a minimum of +1 week for testing especially if any failures occur that need to be remedied prior to mass production. What to look for in testing: the surface finish of your product rubbing off due to friction, cracking of inserts under pressure or impact, and unsecured or damaged product. Don’t skip this step, and don’t assume everything will work out fine. There’s a lot riding on this packaging making it to your consumers on-time and intact. There will be changes at this stage, there always are, look forward to them.

Mass Production
Mass production can take up to +8 weeks depending on the supplier, season, and complexity of packaging and processes. The more components and specialty processes the longer it can take. Identify your own key dates and work with a knowledgable packaging expert experienced in design, manufacturing, and engineering to make sure you can hit each date. Why 8 weeks? Materials and tooling have to be ordered, press time scheduled, dry time, and assembly time. Each phase has to be scheduled around all the other jobs being produced along with yours. Unfortunately, small orders can actually take longer as larger more profitable jobs may take priority over a small run. To avoid this find a packaging partner specializing in small runs under 5k units.

Make sure to ask when packaging will actually begin to come off the line so you can determine if you can ship out partial orders to begin fulfillment sooner. You don’t have to wait for the last pack to come off the line to ship packaging to fulfillment, break it up and save time.

Transit & Fulfilment 
Depending on where you are manufacturing and where you are fulfilling, transit can take up to +8 weeks if you’re moving goods globally. This timing includes loading and prep time, customs clearing, unloading and loading for ground transport. Having a partner that is experienced in moving goods across international borders is critical to save time and money.

Fulfillment is the art of placing your product in its home for the consumer reveal. Timing is pretty fast as product can ship in waves as they come off the line. Estimate +2 weeks for ramp up and filling first orders. Now that your product is in the box you’re going to have to store it somewhere which requires additional transportation to warehouses, add a few days transit. 

We made it! All it took was 27 weeks to design and deliver packaging ready to ship product to consumers. Can packaging be done faster? Yes, much faster. 

Should you count on that? No.

Have a business that needs packaging and you’re unsure where to start? DM me on LinkedIn and I’m happy to answer any questions and direct you to your next steps. 

In the meantime, follow this 5 month project plan to calculate your own packaging timeline.

Evelio Mattos - Creative Director

Named “One of the 200 Best Packaging Designers” by Lurzer’s Archive, and Graphic Design USA's "Designers to Watch", Evelio is an industry recognized packaging design expert. He's a creative producer known for strategically bridging package design and sustainability, with flawless manufacturing. Evelio’s passion for designing and engineering memorable unboxing experiences for global brands and consumers, can be seen in his creative collaborations with some of the world's most sought after brands.

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